blueprint / modrotlac

We spent spring holidays in Slovakia. Few days, esp. around Easter it felt more like Christmas. Persistent sleet turned into a solid snow and by morning the ground was well covered with a white blanket. Our girls had long wished to experience Slovakia in winter, but we avoid travelling abroad in winter so it was only now that their dream came true. Only decorated Easter eggs were a reminder that we were actually into another season.

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One of the many reasons I love going back is that I see my own culture with a fresh eye. The way we live, communicate, the pace of life, our values, traditions, our art and craft and what has influenced both over the time. This time, thanks to one lovely pillow in an ULUV shop it was Blueprint which caught my attention. It’s not new to me though. I still remember this type of fabric being sold in fabric shops and elderly ladies in some villages wearing skirts, aprons and scarves made from it from when I was little. Then, it disappeared for good few years with a closure of the last workshop producing it until few years ago when young generation started reviving the old technique and using it in a more contemporary way.

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blueprint on pleated skirt

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Blueprint or Modrotlac in Slovakian is a dye technique using a chemical resist and indigo. Cotton or linen is first printed with a paste resist with the help of carved wooden blocks and then dyed in indigo. Afterwards the paste is washed away and the cloth mangled for a high sheen finish.

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The resist, which is made of few chemicals and clay  creates strong contrasting patterns of (usually) white on a deep blue background.  Sometimes, yellow or other dye is added to the paste. Resist can be applied several times so that there is a variety of blues in the pattern.

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Each dyer would have it’s own refined recipe for creating the paste and would consider it a technological secret. In few regions blueprint was also achieved by shibori technique (mechanical resist) rather than using the paste. Usually women would tie the pattern into folded cloth before bringing it to a dyer.

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Resist techniques and indigo dyeing were known in Far East long before they arrived in a form of presents to European courts in 17th century. Some countries tried to ban it as it posed serious competition to the local textile producers. Dutch were the first to start producing blueprint fabrics and from the Netherlands the technique spread to Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia and Czechie. In the 19th century dyeing workshops were almost in every Slovakian town. The blue fabric was very popular – it meant that even ordinary people would have access to patterned and coloured clothes, unlike before when the only way to achieve pattern had been to  laboriously embroider white domestically woven fabrics. It also stained less.

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complex blueprint *

complex blueprint and embroidery

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Motives for wooden blocks were designed either by a dyer or a wood carver specialising in this fine craft. Often, new designs would be a result of customer’s suggestions or requirements. Later, metal nails and plates were used in combination with wood to create an even finer print. Inspiration for patterns often came from Slovakian embroidery but also from  patterns from imported fabrics. More complex designs were then a combination of individual patterns used previously. Customers from each region had their popular motives and some would add embroidery or ribbon and laces to embellish the fabric further.

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wooden printing block

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metal printing block

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metal and wooden printing block   *

 There are now several young textile designers reviving this old technique. You can see photos of one of them – Peter Trnka here and click for more traditional Blueprint patterns here here. Peter Trnka as well as another young designer Matej Rabada are on Facebook and you can see many interesting photos on their pages as well.

[I have taken the photos of the printed clothes in The Slovak National Museum in Martin, which also has the largest collection of wooden printing blocks, but only few on display for public]

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14 thoughts on “blueprint / modrotlac

  1. So glad you had a nice, although white, Easter! And as you said…. the girls got to experience a bit of winter in Slovakia 🙂
    I absolutely love the blueprint fabric….. and reading about how it is produced. I’m glad that it is making a comeback.

  2. Very pretty blue and the prints. I’m now in Bratislava and enjoying the sunshine and the culture. How great that Monika you’re from Slovakia.

    • Terriea, what a shame we didn’t meet in Bratislava. Ten days ago i was still there… have a lovely time, hope to meet you one day, somewhere ☺.

      • I’ve a nice stays here in Bratislava since the 10th and leaving for Amsterdam tomorrow for a workshop. Wish we could meet somewhere. Your prints and dyeing are gorgeous and inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thank you for sharing these photos and the history. I hadn’t heard of this Slovakian textile technique. the results are gorgeous.

  4. Oh what a very interesting article, Monika, thank you so much for sharing this part of your native country ! Such gorgeous photos too ! ox

  5. Thank you so much for sharing these images and history. I found several aprons that were printed this way and always wondered about how they were made.

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